If you are looking to become an actuarial graduate, then chances are, you will have to face a pretty daunting actuarial phone interview. However, don't fear. Just below, we will lay out a simple plan of effective preparation (which you are course free to customize at your will -- and is not just intended for graduates - but for experienced jobs and actuarial internships too), to ensure that you ace your phone interview! The plan of preparation will include some of the following: 'How to efficiently research the actuary company', 'what quality queries and questions to ask at an actuarial interview' as well as additional useful actuarial phone interview tips for you to implement.

The Plan of Preparation

1. Brushing Up on Your Phone Interview Skills - from the very day you find out that you have scheduled phone interview -- you should be practicing and constantly refining your phone interview approach and skills -- right up until the big day. Get close friends and family to give you mock actuarial phone interview questions, and then record your answers and analyse with on your own and others in which aspects you can do better and improve upon. Then practice again, and again and then again.

A book I highly recommend for nailing phone interviews that can really help guide you in the right direction on improving your phone interview technique is 'The Essential Phone Interview Handbookby P. Bailo, you really should check it out -- "It provides down to earth great examples of what one should be doing to both prepare prior and to survive the phone interview itself" -- Dad of Divas [4387].

2. How to Effectively Research the Actuary Company - in the phone interview you are going to need to demonstrate that you have conducted in-depth research into the actuarial company/department you wish to work for. In order to carry out research that gets you 'ahead' of your competition, I am going to share with you a couple of little tips I have used in the past (which I go into more detail with here and explain why it is so effective): in addition to the standard research of a company (e.g. checking their website, their competencies, their corporate social responsibility projects, market share, share price, their competitors, their strengths and weaknesses etc.), you can also find out extensive knowledge about the company's inner workings by ringing their actual actuarial departments etc. and having direct queries -- finding knowledge through actively ringing the actuarial company -- both demonstrates initiative and confidence to a phone interviewer, if you were to mention it an interview (which you should).

Another, great tip I like to implement is making use of the 'Google Alert' tool (it allows you to be updated with new articles/web pages that contain the key word you prescribed), by typing the company you have an interview for as the key term -- you will be updated with the very latest news of the company you are about to have an interview for -- essentially the research is coming to you. 

3. Preparing for an Actuarial Phone Interview: Questions and Answers you may already have a vague idea as to the 'type' of questions they may ask you, such as the new competency-based questions (which here I go into specific detail on how to prepare for such questions -- usually used for actuary internship and graduate placements) and the old-style questions such as the classic 'Tell me about yourself' -- which you should prepare  top answers for  both (a great book in addition to the one above which can really help you on just this scenario -- if you are struggling is '101 Great Answers to the Toughest Interview Questions' by R. Fry, another great book).

But to get an even better idea to the specific technical actuary-based questions they may ask I recommend a third and final book to prepare for the actuarial telephone interview, which really has to be the most extensive and comprehensive book of its type the -- 'Actuaries' Survival Guide-- although relatively expensive it will serve as a hugely vital book for absolutely anyone contemplating the actuarial profession (especially for a prospective actuary graduate or a current  undergraduate who has an actuarial internship phone interview coming up). From, here you will learn every aspect that is expected (and more) of an entry-level actuary graduate -- they will struggle to catch you out with technical questions, if you study up well and present the answers as is suggested in 'The Essential Phone Interview Book'.

One further point of  consideration is to research into other actuary based company websites and what they offer as advice and case studies -- don't only look up the company you are applying for but others too (for example check the recruiting process and various case studies at additional companies such as PwC, KPMG, FSA, Zurich etc.) .

4. General Phone Interview Tips - you will come across these in the first book I recommended above, but to get the ball rolling...

4. 1. Have your resume/CV and Cover letter out in front of you - if they have any questions regarding your education, employment history etc. you have all the necessary information right at hand -- giving your interviewer the impression that you are organized and professional.

4. 2. Sort Out your Location - the last thing you need is noise, so be sure to lock yourself in a room with the phone and tell everyone you are not to be disturbed for the next hour or so.

4. 3. Land Line - don't use your cell or mobile phone, the last thing you need to be worrying about is signal and battery life. Besides your voice always sounds clearer and more established on a landline. 

4. 4. Stand Up! - by simply standing whilst speaking, it makes your voice sound more projected and clear -- therefore more confident.

4. 5. Dress for the Occasion - Dress like you were actually going to a face to face and formal actuary interview, it has been proven that when you dress for work, you switch into a more active mindset. 

4. 6. Always be Smiling (ABS) - always smile when you are having your phone interview, it can be heard in the pitch and tone of your voice if you are happy or not (besides smiling for 30 seconds makes you happy anyway).

4. 7. Take Your Time and Keep it Short (Get to the point!)- don't go rushing your answers as i) the interviewer can't always make out what you are trying to say which obviously won't go down too well and ii) you come across as a more confident. Keep your answers reasonably short around 30 seconds is about perfect for an answer, if the interviewer wants to know more they will simply ask -- no harm done there.

4. 8. Try Out a Decent Handsfree Head set - some people feel more comfortable talking with their hands free not only is it one less thing to worry about, it allows you to move around the room freely. You need to come across as interested and energetic -- by being able to move around a room freely and energetically -- it can be heard in your voice.

4. 9. Be polite and Sound your Agreement - when you understand something let them know -- a simple 'Yes' will suffice. Remember their name too, always a great little trick to getting them on your good side. As well of course, keep your manners in check. 

4. 10. Be Organized! Know when then they are actually going to ring you - also keep your CV and cover letter (or spare) near the phone, so if you get caught of guard, you are there and ready.

(If you have any other additional tips -- please leave them in the comments box below)

5. Questions to Ask at an Actuarial Interview - an interview isn't all about the interviewer asking you questions, you are given the opportunity to ask them questions also -- it is a two way street. If you have a genuine question that you are unsure on, ask right away -- they rather be sure you are completely aware of a situation, than to keep it yourself. Besides confirmation of what you think is happening, demonstrates a sense of professionalism -- confirming you are both on the same page. But also be sure to ask intuitive questions about SOA exams and what extent can the firm help you. (Specific examples are given in the books above -- as well as a format of how to come up with your own). I also like to use questions like the following (in rather loose words): 'What qualities does an actuary graduate have -- who is more liable for promotion and progression in X-company -- compared to a candidate who does not?' -- this shows your ambitious and that you want to get on -- convincing the interviewer you are going to practically do anything it takes to be successful in this job.

6. Mistakes to Avoid During Your Interview - it is ok being told what you need to, but you also need to make sure that you know what not to do as well. 

6. 1. Do you know what the job phone interview is actually for? The phone interview is usually a screening process (especially for actuarial internships and graduate jobs) -- in order to get to the face-to-face interview.

6. 2. Don't lose their attention. Like 4. 7. if you ramble on you are going to start to make the interviewer bored and they will lose their focus on you. Be sure to be assertive and demand their attention.

6. 3. You aren't listening to what the interviewer is saying -- and be flexible. Many candidates fail to impress on phone interviews, as they are simply reading out their prepared answers -- which may not always be relevant to the actual question asked! Be flexible. This is why practice comes into play as you can learn to naturally adjust your prepared answers to differently phrased quesitons.

6. 4. You aren't prepared for the 'common' questions: tell me about yourself, greatest weaknesses and strengths -- phone interviews can be mixed, be sure to prepare a short but decent quality answer. The book recommend by Ron Fry above is perfect for this point.

6. 5. You aren't communicating interest. You need to be letting the interviewer know you really want this job -- get involved with them. Ask how you can participate, how you can help, what you can do, tell them how you can bring that 'extra value' to the team (Whether that be a particular skill, work experience, qualification etc.).

6. 6. You didn't ask 'What happens next?' You are interested to know! You want a committment. Be assertive.

(Know of any more mistakes not to make? Please share them in the comments box)

7. Closing the Interview - my last point 6.6. leads us nicely on to the final stage of preparation, on how to close your phone interview. Be sure to prepare an exit strategy  for how things are going to leave off -- obviously you are not going to know exactly the phone interviewers intentions, but it best be a positive one. The most important aspect to be clear of is you need to know what happens next -- regardless of their indications as to how the interview went. If they reply with 'we will let you know' ask them 'let me know what? -- What is the next stage of the procedure?'. 

Please do share with me how your actuarial phone interview or any past experiences of actuarial internship phone interviews etc. in a comment below, and if you are unsure as to how your phone interview went exactly  -- check out 'How to Tell if a Phone Interview Went Well' which points out specific signs and indicators that may have suggested it did in fact go well on the phone or perhaps not as good as you were hoping for.